Left Alliance On A Bumpy Road!
Ritu Raj Subedi
Within 10 days of its formation, the grand left alliance has suffered a crack. This is not owing to the ideological factor but from disagreement over the distribution of electoral seats for the upcoming federal election. One of its constituents, Naya Shakti Party-Nepal (NSP-N), left the alliance after its coordinator Dr Baburam Bhattarai was denied a ticket to contest the poll in Constituency No 2 of Gorkha, which has become a bone of contention between the CPN-Maoist Centre and its breakaway faction, NSP-N. Bhattarai announced that he would enter election fray from this constituency with his own party’s poll symbol - ‘left eye.’ Earlier, he had said his party’s candidates would use CPN-UML’s ‘sun’ following the creation of alliance comprising three forces - the UML, Maoist Centre and the Naya Shakti. Bhattarai has accused both the UML and MC of undermining his party and violating the deal inked during the announcement of the alliance.
Bhattarai’s departure indicates that the ground on which the three parties decided to form the alliance and go for an eventual merger was fragile. It was formed without sufficient homework and a mechanism to sort out the emerging differences and challenges. It appears that the alliance and unity drive was guided more by emotions rather than the rational assessment of ground relaities. The architects of the alliance were inspired by the idea of a socialist revolution to be launched after mustering a two-thirds majority in the federal election.
The Maoist Centre was not ready to forgo the said constituency for Bhattarai, citing the number of votes cast in the recent local elections there. Of the total votes, the Nepali Congress had received 17,070, the Maoist Centre 17,894 the UML 7,208 and Naya Shakti 7,900. If the votes received by the UML and MC are combined, any candidate from the left alliance is most likely to win the election from there. So the top stalwarts of the alliance have made their claim on it. The Maoist Centre had already recommended leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha for this constituency. The Maoist Centre has argued that the grassroots workers are unhappy with the Naya Shakti as it lost elections to the NC in many local units with a thin margin. Meanwhile, Bhattarai argued that he contributed a lot to the development of this constituency when he was the PM so he is confident that voters will finally opt for him.
However, at the deeper level, it is believed that the personality clash between Shrestha and Bhattarai led to this situation. Either Bhattarai or Shrestha can sacrifice for other if they are really guided by broader thought and vision for the unity of left parties. Bhattarai’s party had a humiliating loss in the local poll but he asked for 15 per cent of electoral seats, which was an unrealistic demand. This had put the UML and the MC in a tight spot. The two big parties had agreed to share 60 per cent and 40 per cent of seats respectively after granting positions to other parties and individuals that join the alliance. But, they are unlikely to win sizable number of seats in the federal and provincial elections if they fail to allot them as per the number of votes they racked up during the local elections.
A committee, formed to allocate seats to the UML, MC and other entrants, has been unable to make swift progress. The UML sources said that the committee had been bogged down after the MC leaders staked their claim also in constituencies where they have weak popular base, putting the largest constituent of the alliance on the horns of dilemma. The UML said that the Nepali Congress would take advantage of the situation if the MC candidates were granted tickets in such constituencies. For example, according to the UML, the MC has claimed Tanahu-1 where the NC garnered the highest votes, 28,118, followed by UML (23,002) and the MC (7,207) in the local election. It is not sure that all those UML supporters will vote for any candidate of the alliance. The UML voters may cast their votes for MC candidate if he/she contests the poll using the ‘sun’. This is the basic projcction about election as well as voters. If the two parties do not distribute electoral seats according to their strength and sentiments of the people and cadres on the ground, their calculation may come a cropper.
MC chief Prachanda had agreed to use ‘sun’ in the election but he withdrew from his commitment after the rank and file objected to it, stating that this would finish the Maoist identity and bargaining power in the unification process. So the MC latter decided to use its own poll symbol, sickle and hammer within a circle, in the poll. But, here is a plain truth - if the alliance’s candidates use a single poll symbol namely, the ‘sun’, they might secure victory as expected because it is more popular among the masses than ‘sickle and hammer’.
The UML and MC leaders are confronting the teething problem of their collaboration. They will probably face bigger hurdles after the election. They have yet to settle their complex ideological question. With the announcement of alliance, it was believed that the MC would drop its identity politics but Prachanda has said that his party would continue the ethno-centric politics even after its unification with the UML. It will be hard for the UML to accept the decade-old insurgency as the ‘people’s war.’ There are many tricky issues that put the planners of left alliance on a razor’s edge. They need to demonstrate utmost caution and superior judgment if they want to ride successfully on the bumpy road of communist unity.